10 NFL betting lessons of Week 2 from Matt Youmans

September 18, 2023 11:24 PM

NFL Week 2 Betting Recap

It would be wrong to blame Russell Wilson for being the primary problem behind the Broncos’ latest debacle. Wilson was a mixed bag of big plays and big mistakes, but he played well enough for Denver to win another game that got away.

Wilson also did his part to blow an 18-point lead by losing a fumble, throwing an interception and getting sacked seven times. Still, coach Sean Payton and defensive coordinator Vance Joseph were just as responsible for a wild 35-33 loss to the Washington Commanders on a depressing Sunday in Denver.

It was equally depressing for those of us in Las Vegas who used the Broncos in the Circa Survivor contest, which started with 9,267 entries and is down to 5,936. Denver’s defeat eliminated 847 hopeful fools (and I’m down to one entry after using the other on the Broncos.)

The Commanders’ comeback was a positive result for bookmakers. The Broncos drew a majority of the money as 4-point favorites.

“Wilson didn’t play a complete game,” DraftKings sportsbook director John Avello said. “I don’t think Payton is going to stand for it. He’s not there to appease Wilson. Payton is there to win football games, and if he has to make a change, he’ll make a change.”

Payton, an egomaniac who rarely takes the blame, was quick to throw Wilson and Joseph under the bus in comments after the game. It was 21-3 midway through the second quarter when Wilson lost a fumble on a scramble near midfield. That’s when the defense started to fall apart and Payton’s playcalling deteriorated. The score was 21-14 at halftime.

By the middle of the fourth quarter, it was 35-24 and the Commanders were in control after reeling off a highly unlikely 32-3 scoring run. With quarterback Sam Howell throwing darts and Brian Robinson Jr. ripping off long runs, Washington’s anemic offense suddenly appeared unstoppable.

After a last-second miracle — Wilson’s 50-yard Hail Mary pass was tipped into the hands of Brandon Johnson for a touchdown — it was up to Payton to dial up a creative two-point conversion play. Payton dialed up a dud. With five receivers running routes and no one open, Wilson fired a bullet that Commanders cornerback Benjamin St-Juste batted away. St-Juste obviously grabbed receiver Courtland Sutton early and should have been flagged for pass interference, yet no flag was thrown.

The Broncos should not have needed a miracle finish or a flag. It was an unacceptable collapse that can be blamed on Payton, Joseph’s defense and Wilson’s mistakes. Wilson passed for 308 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 56 yards, so did he show flashes of brilliance.

Payton has not changed much about the Broncos, who are 0-2 and still bad, and it was foolish to bet half of my Survivor life on a losing team. So that’s one of 10 betting lessons to take away from Week 2.

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It’s smarter to bet more on college football and less on the NFL

I had a mostly stress-free Saturday with winners all over the board — which was needed after my back-to-back losing Saturdays — and the point is that college football is a little easier to beat as a bettor. The games are looser, and the lines are not as tight.

Colorado was a 24-point favorite against Colorado State at DraftKings. You don’t see lines that big in the NFL, where double-digit favorites rarely get beat. The Buffaloes trailed 28-17 in the fourth quarter and needed a dramatic comeback to win 43-35 in double overtime. The Rams blew the game, much like the Broncos did the next day.

The Saturday night kickoff in Boulder created incredible action on and off the field. Avello said the wagering handle at DraftKings on Colorado State-Colorado was “twice as much as any other game” Saturday and more than several of the NFL games Sunday. The Buffaloes and “Coach Prime” Deion Sanders are more popular than the Broncos.

“There’s so much hype around the Colorado team and bookmakers love it,” Avello said. “Every week, this team is getting bet heavy. I was shocked to see the handle on that game. It’s crazy.”

Bill Belichick is no longer a trustworthy home ‘dog

It’s tough to criticize the most accomplished coach in NFL history, a coach who has won countless bets for us through the years. But I’m 0-2 backing Belichick as an underdog this season, and it’s annoying. Do I stick with what worked in the past and wait for this ugly trend to turn or is time to move on?

The betting public got it right Sunday night, when the Dolphins won 24-17 at New England. Miami closed as a 1-point favorite at Circa Sports after the line dropped from 3, so sharp money was on the Patriots while the public rode the road favorite.

It was deja vu from Week 1 against Philadelphia as early mistakes by the New England offense put the team in a 17-3 hole. Some of the play calling by Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien was puzzling, and quarterback Mac Jones struggled all night behind a below-average line. The running attack produced only 88 yards on 25 attempts (3.5 per carry).

Belichick’s defensive schemes against Dolphins wideout Tyreek Hill (five catches for 40 yards and a touchdown) were effective, but Raheem Mostert rushed for 121 yards and two scores. The defense was good enough, and an innovative special-teams trick that triggered a blocked field goal was the highlight of New England’s night.

The Patriots, 0-2 for the first time since 2001, have a 14-game winning streak against their next opponent, the New York Jets. I’ll probably stubbornly stick with Belichick, for better or worse.

The Chargers’ failures fall on coach Brandon Staley

Hyped as a defensive wizard when he was hired three years ago, Staley is proving his supporters wrong. The Chargers, who ranked 21st in scoring defense and 28th in rush defense last season, allowed 536 yards to the Dolphins in a 36-34 defeat in Week 1.

Staley’s defense surrendered 341 yards in a 27-24 overtime loss at Tennessee on Sunday. The numbers show improvement, but the pass defense was a problem. Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who went 16-for-34 with three interceptions at New Orleans, completed 20 of 24 passes for 246 yards with a TD and no interceptions against the Chargers. It’s hard to make Tannehill look that good.

I have been a big fan of Justin Herbert since his college days at Oregon, but he’s going nowhere fast with this Los Angeles coaching staff. Herbert passed for 305 yards in the loss to Titans, who I bet as 3-point ‘dogs mostly because I trust Tennessee coach Mike Vrabel as an underdog and usually look to fade Staley as a favorite.

Staley probably should have been fired after the Chargers choked away a 27-0 lead in a playoff loss at Jacksonville. Instead, the offensive coordinator took the fall. It’s time to examine the defensive and game-management shortcomings and hold Staley accountable.

Most injury situations are overrated, and the Bengals are in big trouble

I reluctantly backed the Bengals as 3-point favorites in a bounce-back spot, but it had a lot to do with Baltimore’s cluster injuries. The Ravens were down two starting offensive linemen and two starting defensive backs. It did not matter. The reaction to the injuries was an overreaction.

Baltimore had the better coach, healthier quarterback and stronger running attack in a 27-24 win in Cincinnati. Lamar Jackson outplayed Joe Burrow, who’s still not right after missing the preseason and most of training camp with a calf injury.

“I don’t think Joe Burrow is right,” said Michael Lombardi, a VSiN analyst and former NFL executive. “He doesn’t look like the Burrow we’ve seen before.”

If Burrow’s calf injury lingers, there are reasons for serious concern. The schedule does get softer the next four weeks for the Bengals, who are 0-2 for the second year in a row. It’s time to consider Cincinnati could miss the playoffs after being a trendy Super Bowl pick.

If you bet on the Bears, expect bad news

Eight teams are 0-2 going into Monday’s doubleheader. Three of those teams — Bears, Cardinals and Texans — have no chance of turning it around. Nothing was expected of Arizona and Houston anyway. A surprisingly large group of handicappers did have high hopes for Chicago prior to the season.

The Bears’ losing streak hit 12 with a 27-17 loss at Tampa Bay. Justin Fields shows few signs of developing into Chicago’s quarterback of the future. Fields took six sacks, rushed for three yards and threw two interceptions, with the last coming on a screen pass that was picked and returned for a touchdown with two minutes remaining.

The other five 0-2 teams are headed for must-win games. The Bengals and Chargers each have realistic shots of making the playoffs. The Broncos, Patriots and Vikings are sitting with seasons on the brink of disaster.

The 2024 draft will be loaded with quarterback prospects, and the teams most in need of a QB will be Arizona, Chicago, Denver and Minnesota.

The Lions will not run away with the NFC North

When the Lions opened the season with a win at Kansas City, they seemed to get a significant head start on the rest of a dismal division. But with the Lions, it’s again one step forward followed by one step back. Detroit flopped as a 4.5-point home favorite.

The Detroit defense was shredded by Geno Smith, who passed for 328 yards and two touchdowns in the Seahawks’ 37-31 overtime win. Smith, who attempted 41 passes, was not intercepted and was sacked once.

As I’ve been saying all summer, watch out for the Packers. Jordan Love is maturing as the new starting quarterback and a young team around him is growing up fast. Green Bay blew a fourth-quarter lead in a 25-24 loss at Atlanta, but the Packers appear to have what it takes on both sides of the ball to be the surprise winner of the NFC North.

Sometimes you make the right bet and get unlucky. Survivor contestants on the Giants made the wrong play and got lucky

Through the first six quarters of the season, the Giants were outscored 60-0 by their opponents. A 40-0 loss to Dallas was followed by a 20-0 halftime deficit at Arizona. New York became the only team in the NFL over the past 30 years to be shut out in the first three halves of a season.

Daniel Jones came to the rescue. His first pass of the second half was a 58-yard strike to rookie Jalin Hyatt. Jones finished with 321 passing yards and two touchdowns in addition to 59 rushing yards and a touchdown. Jones brought 1,292 Circa Survivor entries back from the dead in a 31-28 win. The Giants were the week’s No. 2 consensus pick, behind the 2,935 entries on Buffalo. (I used one on the Broncos and one on the Bills.)

“I thought the Giants were going to make a comeback, so I wasn’t surprised,” Avello said. “The Cardinals are just not a good football team.”

The Giants were the league’s worst team for six quarters, but Jones was great for a half. According to research by CBS Sports, teams that trailed by 18 or more points in a game had a record of 3-73 last season. It happened twice in Week 2, thanks to big comebacks by the Giants and Commanders.

No team in the NFL is finer than the 49ers

San Francisco is a good bet to finish with the league’s best record. Look at the 49ers’ schedule and try to argue otherwise.

“If you had to pick one team right now, you would have to say San Francisco is the best team in the NFL after Week 2,” Avello said.

The 49ers were 7-point favorites (and 7.5 at some books) in a 30-23 win at Los Angeles. It would have been a 10-point win and cover if not for Rams coach Sean McVay’s odd decision to send out kicker Brett Maher for a 38-yard field goal as time expired. Is it possible McVay was aware of the spread and trying to cover? Why not attempt a 55-yard field goal one play sooner and leave time for an onside kick?

The Giants opened as 10-point underdogs in Thursday’s game at San Francisco.

Don’t bet on Zach Wilson against a dominant Dallas defense

In fact, as I learned in back-to-back weeks, don’t bet on either New York team against the Cowboys. Dallas owns the league’s top point differential (+60) by far after shutting out the Giants and crushing the Jets, 30-10.

Wilson drew an unenviable first assignment in his attempt to replace Aaron Rodgers. Aside from a 68-yard touchdown pass to Garrett Wilson, Zach Wilson did little to instill confidence in the Jets going forward. He threw three interceptions and led an offense that was 1-for-10 on third downs and totaled 215 yards.

An angry, winless Belichick will be waiting for Wilson in Week 3.

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